Local mural artists voice their stance

Streaks of vibrant red, blue and yellow are emblazoned in the background. Several extended arms reach out towards the two men not revealing their faces toward the viewer to see. The two men are an officer and a civilian being harmed. In white bold letters, it says, ‘Use your privilege’. The mural called, ‘Serve not severe,’ created by alumnus Clayton Singleton, ‘94, is featured in the ‘Work in Progress: 13 Murals for Right Now’ exhibition at the Hermitage Museum & Gardens that encourages people to use their privilege to stop police brutality.

The ‘Work in Progress’ exhibition at the Hermitage Museum & Gardens focuses on the power of murals to bring change as the country experiences social unrest and uncertainty. Thirteen selected artists were invited to share their stance to the Hermitage estate, create their artwork, and work in collaboration with volunteers and local organizations. The murals delved into topics including homelessness, food insecurity, income inequality, women’s representation and Black Lives Matter. 

Jennifer Lucy, marketing and exhibit design manager at the Hermitage Museum, shared, “Last summer in July and August 2020, we submitted a proposal that instead of the museum coming up with the idea of an exhibition, instead the artists tell us what we should be showing in the exhibition,” Lucy said. “The artists then submitted a proposal on a topic or something they envisioned to display. They all picked a different variety of issues.”

The ‘Work in Progress’ exhibition was formed by an advisory committee made up of artists and Hermitage staff: Clayton Singleton, Hamilton Glass, founder of the Mending Walls project in Richmond; Meme, founder of the Few & Far Women’s Collective; and Dathan Kane, co-founder of the Contemporary Arts Network (CAN) in Newport News. Singleton participated in the exhibition to work with other mural artists and share his voice on police brutality.

“The reason I wanted to be in the show is because one, some of the artists in the show are dope muralists and I love the work that they do. I wanted to be a part of whatever they were involved in. The other part is that I had a say in whether or not I wanted to do it by myself or whether I wanted to do a community built mural,” Singleton said.

Six murals were created indoors and seven are displayed in the gardens. Each mural has a QR code for visitors to scan that provides further information and resources related to the artist’s focus on an issue at www.hermitagemuseum.org/work-in-progress-resources. 

Lucy added, “My favorite part has been seeing the visitors react to the pieces. We’ve seen so much better participaction and the key thing is that the exhibition relates to people. These are people in our community who are featuring their work. It makes a different statement.”

Inside the Hermitage Museum, the ‘Work in Progress’ exhibition displays several artworks that are untitled and asks visitors what they think is being conveyed to them by writing their thoughts on a whiteboard. Visitors are also able to share their thoughts of their experience of viewing the exhibition on a chalkboard.

Dr. Joyce Howell, VWU professor of art history, shared her thoughts on her experience visiting the ‘Work in Progress’ exhibition at the Hermitage Museum & Garden. “It was just a knockout. I think that for a museum to be self-critical and invite conversation shows how much they value such conversation. The ‘Work in Progress’ invited a diversity of voices, and views, and a community that put context into this more traditional museum,” Howell said.

On Sept. 11, the Hermitage Museum had an additional event hosted under the ‘Work in Progress’ exhibition called ‘Stories on stage: I’ve never thought of that before.,’. The event featured members in the Hampton Roads community telling their story about an experience or conversation that changed their perspective of someone else or their thoughts. Each story was focused on a social justice issue.

Singleton shared, “I hope that they [visitors] see the layers to all of it. I hope they think to themselves, ‘Am I doing what I can do?’ and then also ask themselves, ‘What would they do?’. That’s why the arms are reaching out so far because those are actionary arms. Those are doing arms. What are you going to do about it? Or is it just going to be another sad thing that you’ll scroll away or turn away from?”

Howell added, “I hope they [visitors] will give themselves over to the pure visual beauty of all works of art from those who aspire to make a statement and open themselves to being engaging with it and letting it wash over [them].”

The ‘Work in Progress’ exhibition is on view at The Hermitage Museum & Gardens on 7637 North Shore Road in Norfolk, VA from June 12 through Oct. 3. The exhibition is free admission to visit on Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Bring family and friends to immerse in the exhibition and dive into greater conversations on social justice in our community.

“Those of us, who can do something about it, who have social positions to be heard, should do it.   Just do it,” Singleton said.

By Tiffany Warren